Grace Riley always loved eggs but her pandemic consumption has been more voluminous and sophisticated.
Jumbo for frittatas, extra large for chocolate chip cookies and almond cake, and large for run-of-the-mill breakfast use.
“Right now I have a bowl of hard-boiled, a carton of extra large and a dozen-and-a-half large,” said Riley, who lives in St. Paul.
Demand for eggs has soared in the past month and prices have jumped. The cost of a dozen large eggs in the grocery store is just under $3 this week, about triple the price both a month ago and a year ago, the U.S. Department of Agriculture said.
Yet some egg operations have idled.
Cargill this week shut down a plant in Big Lake, Minn., that processes more than 800 million eggs per year and sends containers of fluid egg to food-service companies across North America.
The plant is a top-three employer in Big Lake, Mayor Mike Wallen told Fox 9.
Similar disruptions are playing out across products throughout the food system. Suppliers to restaurants, cafeterias, stadium vendors and other businesses have seen demand evaporate, and they aren’t able to quickly pivot to meet surging demand in grocery stores.
Egg farms and processors that want to shift gears need new buyers, new distributors and new forms of transportation, said Kevin Stiles, executive director of the Chicken and Egg Association of Minnesota and the Iowa Poultry Association.
“Unfortunately none of these shifts is quickly done,” Stiles said. “It’s a whole new relationship that the farmer has to identify and build.”
Farms are adjusting by not replacing hens as quickly, Stiles said. He said he has not heard of any farm in Minnesota having to euthanize its chickens. Officials at the Minnesota Department of Agriculture said farmers do not have to notify the department or the Board of Animal Health if they must euthanize a large number of fowl.
Meanwhile, the rise in demand in grocery stores has been welcome relief from below-break-even prices for farmers who sell shell eggs.
“In 2019, eggs were being sold at below the cost of production,” Stiles said. “We’re thrilled that consumers are recognizing that eggs are a great thing for them to buy.”
Riley, who is working from home as operations manager for the League of Women Voters and spoke on the phone as she was slicing an egg to top her avocado toast, said she bought four-dozen eggs on her first trip to the grocery store.
She has since returned to restock. Having worked in a restaurant before, it doesn’t surprise her that some parts of the egg supply chain haven’t been able to quickly adjust.
“It’s a totally different sort of packaging and quantity,” she said. “I totally get that you can’t just flip on a dime.”